Seeding for the NFL playoffs is easy. There are no divisions of different tiers within the league, so seeds are directly determined by record.
For Southern California high school football, the process is not nearly as simple.
Teams don’t spend their season playing solely within their division. Instead, both preseason and league play are often spent with the majority of the games against teams in other divisions, so records alone can’t directly determine the seeding. That leaves a very difficult task for the divisions who have to handpick the seeds based on the information available from one through 16 (1-8 for Division 1).
Plus, with seasons that are so short, off nights and minor injuries can affect regular seasons disproportionately. Nearly anything can happen in a single game, whether it’s the regular season or playoffs. As a result, there’s often a strong potential for lower-seeded teams to go on long playoff runs, or at least pull off one or two big upsets.
Here are the 20 Southern Section football teams that are most likely to pull off upsets and go on playoff runs without having one of the top seeds in their divisions. (Division 1 was excluded due to the nature of the combined Division 1/2.)
It would be an understatement to say that this season has not gone as planned for Oaks Christian. Last season they were in the Division 1 semifinals, and this year they will finish with one of the lower seeds in Division 2.
While they’ve struggled with general inconsistencies, much of their season was derailed due to injuries to stars in QB Jameson Wang and LB Mister Williams. That said, they’ve lost winnable games without them, so they’re likely to end up with a disproportionately low seed.
If healthy, which is a big if, Oaks is one of the most talented teams in Division 2. Williams is back and should be in full swing by the playoffs. The Lions might be the biggest threat on this whole list to win numerous playoff games with one of the bottom seeds.
For what’s not the first time in recent history, the Cavaliers’ season has gotten completely derailed by injuries. Serra had a very solid case as the favorite to win the Mission League as league play approached. Then injuries to both of their quarterbacks, Doug Brumfield and Maalik Murphy, put their league title dreams to rest immediately. Factor in that their best player, LV Bunkley, is a wide receiver, and it’s just devastating.
Serra was 4-1 with their only loss coming narrowly to Narbonne, and is now at risk of finishing the season below .500. They will almost certainly finish with an unimpressive seed in Division 2. But if they have a healthy Doug Brumfield come playoff time, it won’t matter what seed they are–they might be favorites to win it all.
The Eagles got off to a rough start to the season with a loss to Oaks Christian and a pretty bad loss to Paraclete. They bounced back to beat Birmingham and Crespi before Oxnard beat them handily before league started.
So when they opened up league play with a resounding victory over Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks), it was pretty head-turning. Last week they stayed competitive against Bishop Amat, the clear Mission League favorites who are also playing their best ball of the year, and only lost by ten points.
It’s unclear how good Chaminade really is, but they had a lot of roster turnover that undoubtedly needed time to assimilate. They’re well coached and clearly not going to back down to anyone. Chaminade is a strong candidate to erupt against any unsuspecting Division 2 contender.
A mysterious forfeit to Etiwanda after beating them 54-3 last week drops Rancho Cucamonga to 4-3. They’re going to find themselves around the middle of the Division 2 playoff bracket, with losses coming to Norco and Calabasas, but no signature wins. That’s going to spell danger for whoever faces them early on. It’d be easy to sleep on the Cougars, but with an extremely explosive offense that includes 4-star QB CJ Stroud, RBs Elijah Monroe and Quentin Moten, and receivers Jaden Dixon-Veal, they will be a threat to knock off anyone and everyone in Division 2 if they get hot.
Orange Lutheran is 4-3 right now, but will likely finish the season 4-6. If they get placed anywhere near the bottom of Division 2, it’ll be more a product of a brutally strong schedule than of poor play.
The Lancers don’t dominate in any one part of the game, but are very solid across the board on both sides of the ball. They’ve already seen Narbonne, Corona Centennial, and Mater Dei this season with St. John Bosco, Servite, and JSerra on the way. Nobody in Division 2 is going to scare them, and they’ll be perfectly ready to bring everything they’ve got.
This is far from the same Cardinals squad that won Division 3 and the California 2-A championship last season. Sometimes teams that are following up championship seasons with significantly less impressive ones get seeded as a result of what’s essentially voter’s fatigue. The Cardinals will almost certainly be 7-3 come playoff time, but not in nearly as good shape as a year ago.
They probably won’t be in the top five in Division 3, but nobody wants to face Lawndale. They’re very athletic, and big enough to matchup with anyone in Division 3. Lawndale’s defense is still very good as well. They run the ball very well, and when their passing game is on, it’s very difficult to defeat them.
With Corona del Mar, Grace Brethren, and La Habra looming at the top of Division 3, another championship for Lawndale is very unlikely. But making it very close is quite possible, even if they end up in the bottom half of the playoff bracket.
Yes, Westlake’s record is laughable for a playoff team. They did defeat St. Francis 41-35 before forfeiting that game. Still, 2-6 — 1-7 with the forfeit — isn’t good. But their strength of schedule has been overwhelming. They’ve lost to Sierra Canyon, Mission Hills, Oxnard, Rancho Cucamonga, Grace Brethren, and Calabasas, every one of those teams would be contenders for the Division 3 title. In fact, Grace Brethren isthe favorite to win Division 3 behind Corona del Mar.
Nonetheless, Westlake has been disappointing this season, but they have loads of talent and experience against elite teams. Their recent 34-7 win over St. Bonaventure is a great reminder of that. Other than a few heavyweights at the top, they’d be an upset candidate to knock off anybody in Division 3 on the right day. If they can make the playoffs and avoid one of the bottom three or so seeds, a playoff run could be in the cards.
The Cubs turned heads by breezing past Serra (Gardena) in their league opener. Serra was missing QBs Doug Brumfield and Maalik Murphy, but defeating them 24-7 was very impressive. If they can pull off some upsets against Notre Dame (Sherman Oaks), Chaminade, or Bishop Amat, they might get placed pretty high in Division 4, and probably won’t qualify as an underdog. Otherwise, they’ll probably be around the middle of the bracket.
Loyola plays with a lot of tenacity, and will have seen plenty of excellent competition by the time the playoffs come around. These aren’t the Cubs of days past, and they get overlooked as far as Mission League teams go. But that could be a miserable mistake to make for almost any team in Division 4.
The Stallions are likely going to finish their season 7-3, which might not put them in the top few records in Division 4. Throw in the fact that they might get penalized in the seeding for playing in a league where nobody can compete with them, and there’s a chance they slide to fifth, sixth, or even seventh in the playoff bracket.
All of their losses have been to great teams, with one coming 20-3 to Tesoro and two very close losses against Orange Lutheran and Edison. The Stallions are a dark horse contender to win the division outright, and at least get close to the championship game.
With games coming up against Oaks Christian and Calabasas, St. Bonaventure is very likely to finish the season 5-5. That won’t put them at a great seed in Division 5, but they have it in them to go on a run.
The Seraphs are well coached and they execute. They’re not very big, but they play tough and smart, and have a lot of speed. QB Gavin Beerup is the big name, but they’re a very complete team. With the likes of Calabasas and Oaks in their league, they also won’t be afraid of anybody who they’ll face in the playoffs. While St. Bonaventure might get a seed as low as tenth or so, they could plausibly make it out of the quarterfinals.
In Division 6, there are probably going to be a number of top seeds with fewer than two losses on the season. Los Altos has only lost two games, close ones to great teams in Glendora and Diamond Ranch. However, they could fall to the middle of the bracket, as all their wins have been blowouts of teams that aren’t really on their level.
The Conquerors are capable of winning Division 6. They aren’t one of the top favorites, but they are capable. And they have a pretty reasonable chance of making a deep playoff run past some top teams. In the wild Division 6 field, there are so many good teams that the likes of Los Altos could go under the radar and contend for a title outside the top five seeds.
San Jacinto is in the exact same boat as Los Altos. Two losses might be enough to knock them out of the top five in Division 6, or even further. They lost to an excellent Woodrow Wilson squad and a solid Eastlake team, but they have a few nice wins including Murrieta Mesa and Temecula Valley. The Tigers are a very legitimate challenger for the division title, even if they only end up with a middling seed.
Division 7 is one of the only divisions that seems to have a fairly clear-cut top five seeds, at least for now. In no particular order, there’s Temecula Valley, Woodrow Wilson, Serrano, West Ranch, and Cypress. Temecula Valley, who still has Vista Murrieta, Chaparral, and Murrieta Mesa on the schedule, will probably lose at least one more game this season and finish outside the top three.
For teams outside the top three seeds in their division, Temecula Valley has one of the best shots of winning a title in the Southern Section. Everyone in their league and division should be on notice after they almost beat Murrieta Valley in a 51-49 thriller last week. Don’t forget, Murrieta Valley beat Oaks Christian not too long ago. Temecula Valley is legit, and what might be a 6-4 record coming into postseason play will only make their opponents more likely to underestimate them.
The Bulldog’s 20-15 loss against Muir on Monday was a great example of why they’re an upset threat in the playoffs. Playing against a more talented squad, missing some key players due to injury, and with multiple others playing injured, Burbank nearly came back from 20-7 with zero momentum and had a chance to win. They seemed to be out of the game, but a safety, interception, and touchdown later, they had a chance to win in the last minutes.
Burbank isn’t very big but they will battle, and have some speed in key places. It’s easy to overlook them as they don’t have much offensive firepower, especially if QB Rambo Araradian misses extended time. But they are an ideal example of a potential underdog ready to seize any opportunity given to them by an opponent who comes out flat.
So far this season, Palm Springs has probably had the most difficult schedule of anybody in Division 9. Being 3-4 isn’t that bad when they have very close losses to Desert Vista, Citrus Hill, and Tustin. They have to do better than last week’s loss to Palm Desert, but for the most part, the Indians have shown this season that they have what it takes to have at least a fighting chance against anyone in Division 9 with the possible exception of Foothill.
But with at best a 5-4 record going into the playoffs, and Rancho Mirage looming, they might be seeded way too low. Palm Springs could very possibly make a run into the semifinals even if they are in the bottom half of the Division 9 playoff bracket.
Needless to say, this isn’t the same squad that went undefeated through the Division 10 playoffs last season. But this team still has loads of experience and a championship pedigree. Their losses have come to some pretty good teams in South Hills, La Serna, and Moreno Valley.
Now the Eagles have won three straight blowouts, and are hitting their stride. They might be undervalued in the seeding for losing at least three games, and playing a lot of easy opponents otherwise. For a team that has been there and done that and is getting hot at the right time, that sets the stage for some playoff upsets.
Although they only have one loss, Western is in a similar boat as Eisenhower. They won the Division 11 title last season, and most of the wins to get there were with room to spare. While this team isn’t quite as good as last year’s, they’re still really solid, and you can’t teach experience.
They will probably finish the season 9-1, but in a top-heavy Division 10 with plenty of teams with similar records, they probably won’t get a top-five seed due to a relatively easy strength of schedule. But the Pioneers haven’t lost since they faced Muir in the first game of the season, and they’ve only given up 49 points this entire season. Don’t be surprised if they’re one of the last teams standing in the playoffs once again.
With San Jacinto looming on the schedule, Hemet will probably drop to 4-4, and finish league play 6-4. There are a lot of nice Division 11 playoff teams that are going to finish with better records. But Hemet has lost to some really solid teams in Chaparral, Beaumont, and JW North, the latter two they nearly beat.
That gives Hemet a very good chance of being seeded too low come playoff time. It would be hard to imagine anyone defeating Muir in Division 11 this season, but Hemet is arguably the strongest candidate to meet them in the finals and give them a run for their money.
Despite the Timberwolves’ great record, the coaches’ polls haven’t had them near the top of Division 12 much this season. And their only loss came in double-overtime to Dana Hills. But they are likely going to be dinged in the seeding for a weak schedule, even if they finish the regular season 9-1 which could very well happen. A lot will be determined by upcoming league games against Beckman and Portola.
Last year, Northwood was in the Division 12 quarterfinals, and they believe they could’ve gone further. They’ll need to bring their A-game, but they could go on a deep playoff run even if they end up with a bottom seed.
Adelanto also looks like a Division 12 playoff threat with the potential of being seeded too low. There’s no shame in losing to Las Vegas or Apple Valley, but those two losses without many huge wins might keep them out of the top five. Without a doubt though, Adelanto has the talent to win Division 12, and certainly has a great shot at coming close. This is an off year for Carson, but shutting them out was an impressive testament to what the Saints are capable of.